Streaming Forum: TVPlayer Plans an International Expansion

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Just as YouTube unveils its live OTT service, U.K.-based live video streamer TVPlayer has announced plans to expand internationally.

“We’ve had an offer to partner with a telco in Europe,” co-founder Dan Finch told the Streaming Forum audience in today's keynote address. “We have the platform and content rights, and a telco is the right partner because they already have an existing customer base but may not have a TV platform. For us, an extension of the service is fairly straightforward.”

Finch also revealed that Simplestream—a provider of live streaming and live-to-VOD services, and the parent company from which TVPlayer de-merged last year—is about to launch a global subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service for a “large broadcaster” combining 10 linear channels and a 3,000-hour video-on-demand library.

The TVPlayer platform provides access to 100 live-streamed channels from the U.K.’s major terrestrial broadcasters alongside channels from CNN, Dave, and Quest. It also offers a premium tier of 30-plus channels for £4.99 (U.S. $6.15) per month that includes Animal Planet, Comedy Central, Eurosport, and MTV.

The freemium approach “is the future of TV delivery, as far as we’re concerned,” said Finch, who views it as complementary to SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“We don’t want to aggregate movies and, currently, Netflix or Amazon Prime don’t do live TV,” he said.

Since launching in 2012, TVPlayer has amassed over one million active users, targeting mobile and millennial viewers. Finch described the service as “pay TV, but a skinny one… a mini-pay TV platform.”

Finch did not reveal how many viewers are signed to the premium option, but said about 80 percent of consumers who trial it become paying customers. “Our job is to maintain that conversation rate," Finch said. "Millennial audiences love free content and are not happy to pay for it. On the other hand, content like [MTV reality series] Geordie Shore does resonate with Millennial audiences.”

Earlier this year, TVPlayer signed a three-year deal with content aggregator Frequency to offer 150 on-demand channels including those from BuzzFeed, Machinima, and Ted Talks. The on-demand channels will be added to the service by late March. Another 10 linear channels joined the online platform last month as part of the Frequency deal.

Finch described pitching the idea to broadcasters “as just another platform for broadcasters to carry their channels on,” and the basic business model is a “funnel” for free-to-air (FTA) channels. “The aim is to get as many people into that funnel and then there’s a chance to sign them up as paying customer.”

In actuality, TVPlayer operates a number of business models. Aside from the premium service, some broadcaster channels have ad-sharing arrangements and others pay a carriage fee. It also offers digital ad sales and analytics services.

“We have unique visibility into the viewing habits of the audience for FTA broadcasters,” Finch said.

When U.K. ratings agency Barb reported late last year that The X Factor, Fremantle Media’s show airing on primetime Saturday night ITV, was being heavily beaten by BBC show Strictly Come Dancing (9.6 million versus 8.1 million) “We saw the opposite.” Perhaps because The X Factor attracts a younger audience TVPlayer stats for the same period showed the talent contest with a 44 percent share of viewing against Strictly’s 16 percent.

Later this year, TVPlayer will be incorporated into Project Dovetail, Barb’s attempt to merge digital and linear viewing metrics. “It will mean there’s no reason why any broadcaster would not want to be on our platform.”

TVPlayer is available on web browsers, iOS and Android mobile devices, Samsung connected TVs, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV devices.

The technology stack behind TVPlayer is Media Manager, a modular cloud-based suite of components developed by Simpletream.

Finch, who is Simplestream’s commercial director, explained the original concept: “It was essentially, if Sky can put their channels online, then why can’t anyone?”

When the start-up first approached broadcasters in 2012 the reaction was, “’We don’t have the rights to do online video streaming and if we did we’d do it ourselves or with Sky before going with you,’” Finch said.

Four years on and Simplestream has 35 employees based in Piccadilly and recently secured a £5 million (U.S $6.4 million) investment in TVPlayer, led by A+E Networks.

Among its clients is QVC, for which it manages 130,000 on-demand videos; Box Nation’s OTT offer; and Sony, for whom it launched kids' channels on YouView. Other clients include Discovery, Scripps, and Sky Bet.

As part of the A+E Networks deal Simplestream took the Blaze channel over-the-top last year. “That’s a good example of a FTA channel broadcast which made the brave decision to go completely OTT,” Finch said.  “We worked with them on the whole playout function and to launch across multiple devices.”

As media assets are delivered to the broadcaster’s playout centre, Media Manager uploads a copy each to AWS. “We receive all the programming, not the commercials, so there’s the opportunity to insert ads throughout the whole content. The system is set up so that broadcasters can cherry-pick the elements that are relevant to their business.”

Media Manager is built to handle 4K UHD. Finch promises some channels will launch on TVPlayer soon.

“Over the last five years, OTT services have become part of society,” Finch said. “Brave broadcasters are embracing OTT since it offers a return path of data that traditional DTH [direct-to-home] methods of transmission do not. If you own the customer you can curate content that is more relevant and for the first time in history broadcasters can understand who is watching to help shape their marketing and content acquisition strategy.”

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